Written by Staff
March 1, 2023
Written by Staff
March 1, 2023
When a parent, either the mother or father, kills their child, the act is defined as filicide. Filicide can be shocking for the community because parents are expected to protect and care for their children. However, filicide is not a new act; it has occurred among populations since the beginning of time. There are three terms often used when addressing child homicide. These terms are:
Child homicide occurs at the highest rate in the United States among developed nations (Resnik, 2016). There are various characteristics and classifications of filicide. Although different models are available to classify filicide, this document will focus on Dr. Phillip Resnik’s model. In Dr. Resnik’s model, the motive is used to classify filicide. Following Dr. Resnik’s research, additional models were created to classify filicide further.
The act of filicide has been researched and categorized into five primary characteristics. The characteristics were determined based on the parent’s motives. The characteristics of filicide are:
The occurrence rate of filicide in mothers and fathers is similar; however, the weapons used vary. Men commonly commit filicide by using violent methods. Paternal filicide often occurs using weapons, such as knives, and can include squeezing, stabbing, and striking. Maternal filicide often occurs by using personal body weapons, such as hands, and includes methods such as strangulation, drowning, and suffocation.
During the legal process, a defense attorney will represent a parent (defendant) who commits filicide. The legal consequences for committing filicide (child murder) vary between jurisdictions. The legal system has sometimes displayed leniency toward mothers who commit filicide, whereas fathers seemed to have received harsher sentencing. The defense strategy commonly used in altruistic and acutely psychotic filicide cases is the not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) defense.
If a not guilty by reason of insanity defense is upheld, the defendant will be sent to a state forensic psychiatric hospital to serve their sentence as opposed to jail or prison. In these cases, the legal system will utilize a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist to conduct a forensic evaluation. During the forensic evaluation, the forensic psychologist or psychiatrist will determine if the defendant has a mental illness and whether or not the defendant knew their actions were right or wrong (legally or morally) at the time of the offense. If the professional determines the defendant did not know their actions were legally or morally wrong at the time of the offense, it must have been due to a mental disorder. The not guilty by reason of insanity defense is a controversial defense strategy. Society commonly holds two opposing views concerning the not guilty by reason of insanity defense. One view about filicide is that the defendant should be held accountable for the crime of killing a child. The opposing view is that the defendant should not be held accountable due to having an existing severe mental illness.
It is challenging to predict the warning signs for potential filicide. Therefore, a clearly defined technique to prevent filicide has not been identified. However, recognizing the contributors to filicide will help mental health professionals understand the dynamics of parents that commit filicide. Once mental health professionals understand the dynamics leading to filicide, prevention efforts can be made to reduce the occurrence. There are several aspects of filicide cases that mothers and fathers have in common, which include:
Current laws in the United States allow child protection agencies and law enforcement to intervene if they suspect child abuse is occurring. In addition, medical professionals rendering care to children can ask questions that help them decide the parent’s suitability and whether a child is at risk for harm. Early intervention from primary care doctors, pediatricians, therapists, and social workers is a crucial aspect of filicide prevention. Continual research is being conducted about filicide to increase prevention efforts.
Immediately call 911 or your local emergency number if you or someone you know is thinking about self-harm, suicide, homicide, or are in psychiatric distress. If you are with someone thinking about hurting themselves, stay with the person to keep them safe until emergency services arrive at your location.
For non-emergency services in LA County (the entry point for mental health services with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health), use the following telephone number.
For Parents of Murdered Children, the National Organization of Murdered Children may have some resources. Visit their website below.
If you are interested in a psychological evaluation by one of our psychologists at Vienna Psychological Group, book your free 30-minute consultation here.
This blog aims to answer general questions and assist readers in better understanding filicide. This blog is not intended to provide medical, psychiatric, or legal advice.
Cylc, L. (2004). Classifications and descriptions of parents who commit filicide. CONCEPT, p. 28.
Liem, M., & Koenraadt, F. (2008). Filicide: A comparative study of maternal versus paternal child homicide. Criminal behavior and mental health, 18(3), 166-176.
Möller, A. (2015). Methods of Murder in Maternal Filicide: An Analysis of Weapon Use and Mode of Death.
Resnick P. J. (2016). Filicide in the United States. Indian journal of psychiatry, 58(Suppl,2016, 2), S203–S209. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.196845.
Please be aware that this is not a secure email network under HIPAA guidelines. Do not submit any personal or private information unless you are authorized and have voluntarily consented to do so. We are not liable for any HIPAA violations. Understand that if you email us, you are agreeing to the use of an unsecured method and understand that all replies will be sent in the same fashion, which you are hereby authorizing.
By checking this box you hereby agree to hold Vienna Psychological Group, Inc., including its doctors and affiliates, harmless from any hacking or any other unauthorized use of your personal information by outside parties.